Most Americans prefer aging in place over moving to a retirement community. In fact, almost 90% of Americans 50+ say they want to age in place. So, what does aging in place mean, and what are the benefits compared to other levels of care available to aging Americans?

Aging in place is a common phrase used to describe growing older at home, rather than in a retirement or assisted living community. For many seniors, leaving the home in which they’ve lived their entire lives (or even just their most recent years) can feel like a complete disruption of their day-to-day life. Moving could mean living farther away from friends, family, and places familiar to you. This can be difficult for anyone, especially older individuals, who often also experience memory or mobility issues that make the familiar feel safe. Of course, there are drawbacks to aging in place as well, but let’s take a closer look at the benefits first.

Benefits of aging in place

The primary benefit of aging in place is remaining near family, friends, and familiarity. Over the years, we establish roots in the communities we live, and for many seniors, those roots may be decades deep. According to data from the National Association of Realtors, the desire to live closer to family and friends is strong across generations, but is highest for older home buyers, for which it is the most important factor in buying a home. As we age, we experience different emotions around the loss of friends and family we hold dear as well as our own shifting identities. It’s normal to look for something solid—like our communities—to hold onto. 

Familiarity provides support in more ways than one. It adds to the feeling of having a solid foundation to rely on when things get tough, but familiarity can also help people suffering from mobility or memory issues. 

For people with mobility issues, being aware of which restaurants, parks, and other establishments have made accommodations is easier when you’ve lived in the same area for a while. Remembering and connecting memories can also sometimes be easier when you’ve lived somewhere for decades. For someone with dementia, which affects short-term memories first, aging in place may even mean moving back to their hometown (or another place from an earlier stage of life) where the surroundings and community support long-term memories, least affected by the disease. It’s important to note that a move could worsen a dementia patient’s symptoms, so you should always consult your doctor before making a move.

Drawbacks of aging in place

Many people prefer to age in place, so why do people choose to live in assisted living or skilled nursing facilities? In some cases, seniors are no longer safe living independently. This could be due to a need for assistance, an inability to seek care in case of emergency, or the presence of hazards in their home. Stairs and other tripping hazards can lead to falls that are sometimes detrimental to an older person’s health. Additionally, impaired vision is common as we age, and can result in normal home features becoming everyday hazards. Finally, elderly individuals are also more likely to forget to turn off appliances, change smoke detector batteries, and schedule preventative maintenance.

Quality of life is another concern when considering aging in place. For starters, maintaining a home takes a lot of work. From cooking and cleaning to lawn care and maintenance, the upkeep of a home is too much for many older Americans to handle alone. There are services to help with homemaking, but assisted living is an attractive option for many who seek independent living with a supportive community filled with peers. 

And that brings us to another important drawback to aging in place: loneliness caused by a lack of (the right) community. When you choose to stay in a community you’re familiar with, you receive the benefits of being close to loved ones—but your friends and family have work and other commitments that may leave you feeling lonely rather than supported. Moving to a retirement community could result in a surrounding community that is better fit for the support you need now.

Aging in place checklist

Many aging Americans choose to live in place for as long as they can. If you’re hoping to age in place for as long as possible, follow this checklist to ensure you’ll have the environment, products, and services you need for safety and convenience while living independently.

1. Understand the pros, cons, and costs of aging in place

We’ve covered some of the benefits and drawbacks of aging in place. Be sure to look at them to determine if aging in place is a good option for you. In addition to these pros and cons, you need to consider the cost of long-term care as it compares to aging in place. Many people get sticker shock when looking at the monthly cost of assisted living, which has a median monthly cost of $4,500 in the US—but aging in place comes with its own costs. You may need to make home modifications (or purchase a new home) and pay for products and ongoing services to maintain a healthy lifestyle at home. These costs can add up, so be sure to compare quotes from assisted living facilities with an estimated budget for aging in place before making your decision.

2. Decide if you want to downsize or make modifications to age in place

Grab bars, wide doorways, ramps, shower seats, and stairlifts aren’t considered typical home features, but they’re necessary for many individuals who choose to age in place. Many older individuals also prefer homes with a smaller footprint because it reduces the effort needed to maintain the home. Supporting data shows us that home buyers over 67 are much more likely to purchase a townhouse or an apartment/condo in a smaller building (not a high-rise). 

If you are looking to downsize or make modifications in your home consider these home features commonly desired by members of older generations:

  • Smaller homes and lots

  • Convenience to health facilities and shopping

  • Amenities in a planned community

  • Low-maintenance 

  • One-floor living or a main-floor primary suite

Aging Americans have two choice when it comes to aging in place: 

  1. Purchasing a home that better fits their needs for aging in place (but may still require some modifications)

  2. Making modifications to their current homes so they can age in place safely and comfortably

Home modifications can vary based on the home and the resident’s needs. Redoing the layout of a home and paying special attention to the design of high-traffic areas (like kitchens and bathrooms) is key to ensure a safe place for independent living.

Take a look at some common home modifications older Americans often consider to help them age in place:

  • Adding a stairlift

  • Installing grab bars

  • Enhancing lighting

  • Making more space with layout changes

  • Updating flooring to eliminate tripping hazards and make cleaning easier

  • Replacing remotes and electronics with more accessible models

  • Making one-floor living possible

  • Installing a curbless shower (vs a step-in tub)

  • Putting in a shower seat

  • Elevating the toilet seat height

  • Adding adjustable/removable shower heads

  • Widening doorways

  • Putting in non-slip flooring and mats

  • Ensuring furniture is sturdy and fixed to the wall

  • Managing cords

  • Providing easy phone access

  • Increasing temperature control

3. Consider assisted care options for aging in place

Even heroes need help! Aging in place doesn’t mean you need to forego all assistance. As you age in place, you may lean on your community for basic assistance, respite care for short-term or infrequent support, or home health care for daily assistance at home. 

People often ask about long-term care coverage, including assisted living, skilled nursing, and home health care because these services are often very costly. Unfortunately, Medicare doesn’t cover long-term care services, unless you’re terminally ill or have a doctor’s order for home health care.

4. Explore products and services for individuals choosing to age in place

There are a number of products and services available to help with aging in place. Grocery and food delivery, lawn care, and transportation services may already be familiar because they’re common among Americans of all age groups. Respite and home health care can ease the burden of care for family and friends, while services to help with grocery shopping can aid in fostering a sense of independence because you aren’t relying on your friends, family, or caregiver.

Services that can help with aging in place:

  • Respite care

  • Personal assistant services (like Task Rabbit)

  • Home health care

  • Lawn care

  • Cleaning and organizing

  • Transportation services

  • Grocery and food delivery

Products that can help with aging in place:

  • Personal alert system

  • Elevated toilet seat

  • Adjustable bed

  • Pill organizer and reminder alarm

  • Night lights

  • Zipper pulls

  • Phones with large buttons

  • Adaptable kitchen tools

  • Grabbing tools

  • Baskets and bags for carrying loose items

  • Magnifying tools

  • High-contrast or textured stickers

5. Research available long-term care options

Most people aren’t able to safely live in their homes forever. Whether their needs surpass what a home health care specialist is able to provide or they need more accommodations for their health conditions, many seniors eventually move into a long-term care facility. Some even choose to move to an assisted living community sooner than they need to so that they can avoid the difficulty of moving after mobility and memory issues have set in. 

Make a plan to make the transition into future living arrangements easier. Researching your options now will make transitioning to assisted living or a nursing home much easier, if and when the time comes.

Choosing whether or not to age in place is a personal decision that requires careful thought and consideration. You should be aware of the pros, cons, necessary accommodations, and costs to make sure you make the right choice based on your unique health and financial situation. If you’re still wondering, “should I stay or should I go?” then take a look at other levels of care available to seniors.

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